Thursday, January 15, 2009

Long-Delayed Chinese Import Restrictions Imposed

The State Department and US Customs have finally "pulled the trigger" on the PRC import restrictions, which have been pending since 2005. The restrictions will be published in the Federal Register and become effective tomorrow.

This 12th hour decision of the Bush Administration reminds me of the 12th hour decision of the Clinton Administration to impose import restrictions on Classical Greek and Roman artifacts from Italy.

The Chinese restrictions cover archaeological materials representing China’s cultural heritage from the Paleolithic Period (c. 75,000 B.C.) through the end of the Tang Period (A.D. 907) and irreplaceable monumental sculpture and wall art at least 250 years old.

On first reading, the breadth of the restrictions are extensive, but for most categories, no where near as extensive as China's original request which purportedly sought restrictions on artifacts made as recently as 1911.

As those following the ACCG-IAPN-PNG FOIA litigation against the State Department know, there continues to be some question as to whether China actually asked for coins to be included in the request, or whether bureaucrats within the State Department's "Cultural Heritage Center" added them on their own or at the behest of American archaeologists.

In any event, the following types are now restricted:

3. Coins.

a. Zhou Media of Exchange and Tool-shaped Coins: Early media of exchange include bronze spades, bronze knives, and cowrie shells. During the 6th century BC, flat, simplified, and standardized cast bronze versions of spades appear and these constitute China’s first coins. Other coin shapes appear in bronze including knives and cowrie shells. These early coins may bear inscriptions.

b. Later, tool-shaped coins began to be replaced by disc-shaped ones which are also cast in bronze and marked with inscriptions. These coins have a central round or square hole.

c. Qin: In the reign of Qin Shi Huangdi (221–210 BC) the square-holed round coins become the norm. The new Qin coin is inscribed simply with its weight, expressed in two Chinese characters ban liang. These are written in small seal script and are placed symmetrically to the right and left of the central hole.

d. Han through Sui: Inscriptions become longer, and may indicate that inscribed object is a coin, its value in relation to other coins, or its size. Later, the period of issue, name of the mint, and numerals representing dates may also appear on obverse or reverse. A new script, clerical (lishu), comes into use in the Jin.

e. Tang: The clerical script becomes the norm until 959, when coins with regular script (kaishu) also begin to be issued.

In point of fact it will be exceptionally difficult for any Customs inspector to distinguish a round cash coin with a central hole from the Qin -Tang dynasties from other equally numerous cash coins dating down to 1911. And, of course, given the millions of such coins extant, one might ask why even try?

In any event, I am sure this decision will be an exceptionally hot topic.

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